Have you ever wished you had a way to help your child calm down when he or she is on the brink of a tantrum?
We’ve all been there…you are steps away from checking out at the store when suddenly your exhausted child spies they toy they’ve alwaysssss wanted. Whiny pleas follow. “No, it’s time to go,” you respond.
Suddenly, your little person erupts- whining, crying, kicking, screaming- your precious two year old has turned into an active volcanic eruption.
Often we just let the explosion happen and walk out heads hanging in shame.
What if there were another way? What if you could calm your child down before the eruption?
How to help your child calm down
Step 1: Calm yourself first.
If you take nothing else away from this post, remember this one.
An anxious/angry/choose your emotion of choice momma can’t calm an upset child.
Watch the explanation below:
If you’re in a pinch and need to calm down fast, like in the checkout line, just take a few deep breaths, count to ten, and remind yourself that you will both get through this.
Then, once your heart rate has slowed down and you no longer feel like a fire-breathing dragon about to erupt, address your child.
If you notice you are feeling anxious or upset consistently, try adding some of these to your routine to help balance out the fizzy anxiety with some calm water (watch the video, it will make sense).
- Take a walk
- Listen to calming music
- Take a bath
- Find a creative outlet
- Talk with a friend
- Talk to yourself in third person to give yourself distance from the situation (sounds crazy but it’s backed by science!)
Lifehack has even more great tips for keeping yourself calm.
Step 2: Put your child’s emotions into words.
“You’re upset because you can’t get the toy you wanted. That must be frustrating.”
Step 3: Bring it in and breathe
That’s right, if your child is a hugger, you are going to hold him or her tight and take some deep, calming breaths.
You are not rewarding him or her for acting out. You are modeling how to calm down when the volcanic lava of emotion is about ready to spill out on everyone around you.
If your child isn’t a fan of hugs or pushes you away, just sit next to him or her and breathe. Keep breathing until you see the tantrum start to fade (your child looks at you, the crying slows, etc).
Step 4: Use a Calming Technique
At this point, the tears have slowed and your child is willing to look at you and listen to what you say but probably not quite ready to reason with you.
To help your child feel in control without giving into his or her ask that started the tantrum in the first place, offer a calming technique.
Here are some of our go-to options below.
Click these links to download the Calming Techniques in English or in Spanish.
How to use the calming techniques to help your child calm down:
The easy version:
- Print the list on card-stock or laminate it and have it readily available.
- When your little one is in the midst of a tantrum, pull it out and ask him or her which option would help him feel better.
- After he chooses, give him a few minutes to do the chosen activity.
The fancy version:
- Print out and laminate both the list and the person.
- Cut out the different options and Velcro them around the body.
- When your child is upset, allow him or her to physically select the option that works best and stick it on the person’s heart.
- Give the child a few minutes to do the selected activity and finish calming down.
Which version should you make?
In all honesty, my son prefers just the sheet. When he is upset, he just angrily points. Asking him to unstick and restick Velcro is enough to trigger another round of tears.
But…when he’s happy he loves the Velcro version. He uses it to pick what we “play” next. Sometimes he will just go through all the calming techniques for fun.
Once kids are a little older, they will begin to calm themselves. This list can be a great reminder of ways to stay calm during the transition.
I would say for younger kids, 0-3 stick with just the sheet. Their little fingers might not be strong enough to tackle Velcro while in a fit of rage.
For older kids transitioning to self calming, the Velcro might be a good way to get out some of that excess energy.
Step 5: Ask your child to help solve the problem
Instead of sticking with “because I said so!” to explain your reasoning, ask your child to help you solve the problem. Give them a choice.
We can’t buy the toy but would you like to help me scan the items in the cart or put them in the bag?
Do you want to eat your broccoli with a fork or a spoon?
This, again, allows them to feel some sort of control without giving in and letting them get their way.
Step 6: Follow through with your no
If the tantrum was sparked by saying no to a toy in the store, you are still saying no and walking out of the store.
If it was a result of asking your child to eat broccoli, after he or she calms down, the broccoli still needs to be eaten.
If the ask triggers another tantrum, just go through the process again. Remind your child that although you understand this is hard for them, you know they can do it.
Don’t give in.
We have to be consistent in teaching our kids that no means no. This actually helps lessen tantrums because they learn it isn’t an effective tactic.
But don’t I need to punish my child for acting out?
Punishment and consequences are not the same.
There was no punishment, but you did enforce a natural consequence.
Your child still didn’t get what he or she wanted (consequence).
However, instead of just feeling bad for his or her behavior, your little one learned how to calm down and choose positive alternatives when you can’t get what you really want.
And that my friend is the silver bullet to diffuse tantrums before they start. Granted, there will still be tantrums and off days (cuz let’s be honest, momma can’t be calm alllll the time) but at least in our house the tantrums are much less dramatic than before.
A word of caution
I must warn you before we end, this is not an easy change to make. Altering your own habits is the hardest and most important step.
Your child will likely call you out on your own volcanic eruptions and remind you to breathe. (You will simultaneous laugh and want to yell at him for it).
But, sometimes as parents we get to teach our kids and sometimes we have to learn alongside them. The important thing is that we are all learning.
You’ve got this momma. Take a deep breath and dive in!